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Government The Almighty Buck

SSN Overlap With Micronesia Causes Trouble For Woman 494

Posted by samzenpus
from the not-my-problem dept.
stevel writes "Holly Ramer, who lives in Concord, NH, has never been to the Federated States of Micronesia, but debt collectors dun her mercilessly for unpaid loans taken out by a small business owner in that Pacific island nation. Why? Micronesia and other countries in the region have their own Social Security Administrations which gave out numbers to residents applying for US disaster relief loans. The catch is that the Micronesian SSNs have fewer digits than the nine-digit US version, and when credit bureaus entered these into their database, they padded them out with zeros on the front. These numbers then matched innocent US citizens with SSNs beginning with zeroes, as many in northern New England do. The credit bureaus say to call the Social Security Administration, the SSA says call the credit bureaus, the FTC says they can't help, and nobody is taking responsibility for the confusion."
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SSN Overlap With Micronesia Causes Trouble For Woman

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  • They'd never get a judge to sign a lien or wage garnishment unless the SSN, name, and birthdate matched. Not to mention signatures on signed documents.
  • by IBitOBear (410965) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @07:47PM (#29127083) Homepage Journal

    The credit reporting agencies are redistributing negative information they _know_ is untrue. Why isn't this defamation or liable/slander (whichever is the written one)?

    It seems like the credit agencies have managed to get some sort of immunity to "it costs money to lie" principle.

    Where does this protection come from?

    I agree that it has nothing to do with the social security system, since the extra-national numbers don't actually match (it's the credit reporting system that is forcing the reporting entity to "pad" the number with leading zeros) and are completely out of their control.

    Like most of our problems in the U.S.A. there is a lack of accountability and personal and/or corporate responsibility at its core.

    Eventually someone is going to revolt against someone somewhere.

  • by e9th (652576) <e9th@tup o d ex.com> on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @07:49PM (#29127105)
    In Micronesia, they gave out short SSNs. In Polynesia, they would have looked like x^2+4x-3.
  • Idiot programmers (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sunderland56 (621843) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @07:51PM (#29127115)
    All this, caused by someone too lazy to add a "if (country == USA)" statement.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MaNtErOlA (1170641)

      All this, caused by someone too lazy to add a "if (country == USA)" statement.

      All this thread and your comment about country==USA reminds me a problem my wife and I are facing now with SEVIS, DMV, and Immigration Services. When we tried to get our Driver License, we had problem because our prove of legal residence didn't match with the records of Immigration Services. Specifically, we appear as Ivory Cost citizens but we are Chileans. Trying to find out what the problem is, I discovered that my DS-2019 in the country code field has CI, the Ivory Coast code. But that was not the prob

  • a little metadata (Score:3, Informative)

    by joeflies (529536) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @07:57PM (#29127181)

    looks like the data (ssn) needs a little metadata (issuing authority, distinguished name) in order to make it work.

    • by shabble (90296) <qkjj13x02@sneakemail.com> on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @08:37PM (#29127507)

      looks like the data (ssn) needs a little metadata (issuing authority, distinguished name) in order to make it work.

      Or, as I've questioned previously [slashdot.org] on here, WTF are the credit rating agencies in the US using non-unique identifiers (and identifiers that shouldn't be used outside a social security scenario) when (usually the exact same) credit agencies in other countries can manage using other (available) data? (Name, DOB, (Previous and current) Address?)

      For example in the UK, the equivalent to the SSN is the National Insurance (NI) number - this is never used by the CRAs - only by HMRC (tax office.)

      Anyway, sure, they still get false positives using these details (the most common seems to be when they use the name only), but not quite on this sort of scale.

  • by rlp (11898) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @08:01PM (#29127237)

    I got a new wireless phone a year ago. It came with daily calls from collection agencies for people I've never heard of. Some were annoying automated calls. When called by live people, I told them they had the wrong number and to please update their database. Of course they didn't. Finally took a letter to the agencies legal departments to get them to stop.

    I was staying at a (rental) cabin in the woods this past weekend and got a call from a collection agency on the cabin's landline. And no, they were calling for a random person, not they owner of the cabin (or me).

    As near as I can tell, collection agencies use the following strategy when seeking debtors: call every number in the country till they find the person they're looking for.

    • by Krneki (1192201) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @08:17PM (#29127375)
      When I get an unwanted call I say, "Hold on 1 minute, I'll be right back". Then you leave your phone on and continue to do your work. I never get a second call.
    • by stwrtpj (518864) <p.stewartNO@SPAMcomcast.net> on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @08:48PM (#29127581) Journal
      Sometimes all it takes is being a little aggressive with them on the phone and asserting your rights. I had this problem years ago when I first moved into an apartment in NJ. A few months afterward I got calls from a debt collector asking for someone I never heard of. After it happened three times, I decided to be nice and ask the neighbors if they heard the name. Turns out it was the previous tenant. So when the debt collector called again, I was nice about it and explained that I had just moved in and that they wanted the previous tenant.

      I was promptly accused of covering for him, and was threatened with ridiculous legal action. That's when I made it clear that I knew exactly what my rights were and that if I received another call again I would refer the matter to my attorney (I didn't actually have one, but sometimes mentioning it is enough). I never got another call again.
    • Pretty much (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @09:05PM (#29127685)

      They just use shotgun tactics to try and get a response, calling every number that they can find ever associated with a person. They aren't real good about taking hints either. At work (state university) we periodically get calls for someone that used to work there a LONG time ago. Now never mind they aren't supposed to be calling work, but he's not there. None the less they try to get information on him. Usually they'll go away when I say "I'm sorry, we can't give out any information." However there was one who was pretty stupid about it. More or less went like this:

      Me: "He doesn't work here any more, hasn't for a long time, since before I was here."
      They: "Well where is he now?"
      Me: "I don't know, and even if I did I can't give you employee information, only HR can do that."
      They: "Will they tell us where he is?"
      Me: "Nope, they'll tell you his dates of employment."
      They: "We need to know how to get a hold of him now, where we can reach him."
      Me: "Well sorry, we can't help you."
      They: "You have to tell us where he is, or get us someone who can."
      Me: "I have to? Ok hang on a moment I'll need to conference in the general counsel, they'll need to be involved if you are making a legal claim."

      At that point they immediately hung up. Guess they didn't want to talk to the lawyers. What amazed me was the tone and attitude of they had of "You have to help us do our job or else." Else what asshole?

  • by dave562 (969951) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @08:02PM (#29127251) Journal

    I was born in New York and have a 081- SSN. I think it's time to take out a bunch of Federal loans and blame some lazy Micronesian for failing to repay them. Then I can take the loan money and buy kilos of cocaine^Hdollar bills with the money, resell the dollars and really make some good cash.

    1. Be born in the North Eastern United States
    2. Take out loan
    3. Exploit confused system that can't separate foreigners from natural citizens
    4. ???
    5. Profit!

  • by thogard (43403) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @08:32PM (#29127477) Homepage

    The SSA simply needs to announce that from next January, all new SSNs issued will be 22+ digits long and will be identical for the first or last 9 digits. They wouldn't have to do it, but it would force lots of places to plan for a future change. They could also start putting in a checksum on some new cards or throwing in letters. Remember the common mod 10 checksum used for things like credit cards was designed to work with EBCDIC letters.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by geekmux (1040042)

      The SSA simply needs to announce that from next January, all new SSNs issued will be 22+ digits long and will be identical for the first or last 9 digits. They wouldn't have to do it, but it would force lots of places to plan for a future change. They could also start putting in a checksum on some new cards or throwing in letters. Remember the common mod 10 checksum used for things like credit cards was designed to work with EBCDIC letters.

      OK, first I'll comment in saying that I think you finally found a use for IPv6 address space...Nice one.

      Unfortunately, this number "reform" pretty much all becomes a fucking mute point unless we have some REAL SSA reform to go along with it.

      Sorry if it seems I'm a little bitter. I'm due to collect SS the very year they're due to be broke, fuck you very much.

  • by RelliK (4466) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @10:04PM (#29128161)

    I just realized that there is not much of a space for unique SSN's. 9 digits gives a maximum of 1 billion numbers. However, not every number is actually used. I assume that there must at least be a control number to check if SSN can be valid, similar to how credit cards / ISBN work. There could also be regional prefixes, similar to IP addresses (e.g. 111 = New York, 999 = California or something like that). etc. This would significantly reduce the number space.

    Even if that's not the case, the population of US is ~ 300 million. There must have been more than 1 billion people who have lived/still living since the SSNs were first introduced.

    My question is, how did US not run out of unique numbers? Do SSNs get reused?

    • by iYk6 (1425255) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @10:36PM (#29128367)

      I just realized that there is not much of a space for unique SSN's. 9 digits gives a maximum of 1 billion numbers. However, not every number is actually used.

      That is correct.

      I assume that there must at least be a control number to check if SSN can be valid, similar to how credit cards / ISBN work.

      No. SSNs do not have any sort of check digit. If they did, then there would be a maximum of 100 Million numbers given, and they already would have ran out.

      There could also be regional prefixes, similar to IP addresses (e.g. 111 = New York, 999 = California or something like that). etc. This would significantly reduce the number space.

      The prefix identifies the state that the person lived in when they applied for a SSN. However, this doesn't really reduce the available numbers, because the state just uses them all up and then gets more prefixes from SSA.

      Even if that's not the case, the population of US is ~ 300 million. There must have been more than 1 billion people who have lived/still living since the SSNs were first introduced. My question is, how did US not run out of unique numbers?

      So far, approximately 360 Million SSNs have been assigned. They will run out eventually, and we will have to a new system, but not for a little while.

      Do SSNs get reused?

      No.

    • by BSDevil (301159) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @11:00PM (#29128557) Journal
      Surprisingly, they have no check digits. There's a summary about how the numbers work on Wikipedia The gist of it is that the first three numbers are "Area Numbers" which correspond to the Zip code of the mailing address you supplied when you applied for your SIN, the second three are "Group Numbers" which are issued in a weirdly non-sequential way and are for administrative grouping, and the last four are "Serial Numbers", which are issued in order within a group. If you're curious, you can look up on socialsecurity.gov the highest Area Number which have been allocated (772), and the highest Group Number for each area,
  • by SashaMan (263632) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @11:38PM (#29128823)

    This is somewhat off-topic, but I found the details of the article very interesting. Of 299 US government loans to Micronesians, over 200 were not paid up!! That makes subprime loans look like gold. Basically, the Micronesians are treating these as gifts, not loans. And why not - it's obvious the lender (that would be you, the American taxpayer) doesn't have any real recourse to collect. It's not like the Micronesians have anything to fear from US credit bureaus, who can't even track them adequately.

    In other words, the US government tries to pretend these are loans by putting SSNs on the accounts, which ends up screwing over some hapless US citizen, when they should just treat them as gifts, because in reality it looks like they are.

  • by YoungHack (36385) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @08:57AM (#29131719)

    If you have enough sense to browse the comments, you'll find common themes:

    1. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is pretty effective at helping you deal with collectors, so go read the law.

    2. You can usually get a good response by writing a letter (and you'll see why if you read the law). At the minimum you can make them comply with a "do not call me" request and make them correspond by letter.

    I will add a bit of my own wisdom. Find out the laws in your state and record your telephone. I happen to be in a "one party knows" state, so I can record my calls without saying. I always ask the state the collector is in and look it up to see if it is compatible (otherwise you may need to inform them if you want to use the recordings in court).

    Review your telephone recordings. Sometimes collectors will say things that don't mean quite what you think when you are on the line and under stress. I found reviewing the recordings left me with "ah ha" moments, especially when I took the conversation in the context of the FDCPA.

    Despite some other commentor's opinions it was my experience that debt collectors are often professional thugs. It makes sense, thugs have to work somewhere too, and you do what you are good at.

    If you have to pay a collector (I owed for a legitimate claim one time when there was a billing mistake), I recommend a one-time use credit card number. It can't be double billed if you set a limit at the correct amount. Believe me, you don't want to try to collect from a collector who owes you money because they screwed up. You can be successful, but you won't enjoy it.

    Remember, you want to be polite but firm. You want your recorded voice (remember, you're going to be taping this) to sound reasonable. If you take this collector to court, you want them to be the asshole. You want the judge to get pissed on your behalf and zing them with a judgment.

From Sharp minds come... pointed heads. -- Bryan Sparrowhawk

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